Authors: Shiloh Walker
For my family, always…
Will was hard-pressed not to gape at her. He did
hover. He brooded, he pissed people off, he did things he hated, things that made others hate
, but he did
He’d walked the Earth for more years than he could remember, and he’d seen friends, both mortal and angel, die and he’d taken it all with the knowledge that death was inevitable. He didn’t falter in his tasks, he didn’t hesitate and he damn well
did not hover
Even as that ran through his mind, he kept two steps behind her, worried Mandy might stumble as she made her way to the balcony.
He’d like to think—indeed, he even
himself—that he worried over all the newly made Grimm this much. He was their leader and it was his job to watch over them.
It was never an easy thing, that change from mortal to more. And when one went down the way Mandy had, in a bloody, brilliant blaze of pure selflessness…
The images tore through him again, as though it had happened yesterday. In truth, it
like yesterday for him. Six months was like a second to him, a blink, a heartbeat. Days blurred together and faded. People blurred together and faded. Even his Grimm, sometimes.
But not Mandy.
She was as vivid to him, as bright and brilliant and bold as a bolt of lightning.
Nothing about her had faded, not in the five years since she’d come into his life so unexpectedly.
She glared at him over her shoulder, dark eyes snapping, her face pale and wan and too thin. She needed to eat more, gain back the weight she’d lost before her body took on the form she’d carry for the rest of her existence.
“You’re doing it again,” she said, her voice carrying a warning edge.
“I’m not doing anything,” Will said stiffly, wondering how he could get her to sit down. To eat. To rest.
It had been four days since he had brought her out of stasis.
Four days…and every time she opened that smart mouth of hers, he was torn between an urge to strangle her and kiss her. Of course, he couldn’t give in to either option. And damn it, if she didn’t sit down—
She was so thin, so pale. He could almost see through her, it seemed.
She spun around and slammed a hand against his chest. “
hovering!” she snarled, her eyes flashing at him.
“I’m not hovering,” he said.
Mandy lifted a black brow. “And what would
call it, Will? You’re never more than three feet away, and if I’m standing, you’re more like
feet away, at the most. Let me breathe, damn it. Let me…”
She swayed and he caught her, steadied her.
“Shit.” She smacked at his hands as he lifted her, carried her to one of the chairs out on the balcony. “I hate this. I hate it.”
He smoothed her dark hair back from her face. “The weakness will pass. You just need to let your body adjust. You need to rest, eat. Give yourself time.”
“How much time? Shit, I’ve been out of it for six months…”
He knew. He knew in excruciating detail just how long she’d lingered in stasis—he’d spent almost all of that time at her side. Watching. Waiting. Wondering. Worrying.
This woman, somehow, had worked herself so deeply inside him…
The injuries she’d taken upon her death had been so grievous, a few hours, a few days hadn’t been enough for her body to heal the damage, Grimm or not. No, it had taken months, and he’d spent those months at her side.
He felt a familiar press on his mind. Sighing, he straightened.
Mandy gave him a puzzled glance then smirked. “Obi Wan Kenobi needs to commune with the Force.”
He tuned her voice out as two familiar faces came to his mind.
One of his Grimm.
And a mortal…who was slated to become one of his.
She’d already had such a hard life—
He’d hoped she would have more time. Enjoy her mortal life.
But she hadn’t enjoyed the first twenty-three years. Why in the hell should that change now?
“Can you see through my dress?”
Vanya tried not to snort as she finished up in the bathroom stall. When she came out, she automatically dipped her head so her hair—or rather the wig’s hair—fell and hid the scars that started at her temple and continued down along the left side of her face.
The wig was a necessity. The scars made her stand out too much. In the past two years, she’d convinced herself not to care so much about them, but the reality was that they did make her stand out and she couldn’t have that.
If she didn’t do something to disguise her looks, it would be far too easy to track her down. And she still suspected it wasn’t enough.
Of course, tonight, it hardly mattered. These girls weren’t paying her any attention at all.
They were too busy staring at their friend’s dress.
“Oh, you can definitely see through it.”
Yeah. Vanya was hard-pressed not to roll her eyes as the girl clapped a hand to her forehead and dramatically cried, “I look like such a
…why didn’t anybody tell me?”
“Well, we thought you knew…”
The dress’s transparency wasn’t going to add or detract from the girl’s would-be sluttiness. Maybe the fact that it didn’t quite cover her lacy boy shorts, her lack of a bra and her very real need for one—
might add to the slut image. Or the fact that she’d already had sex tonight—
. Vanya had seen the girl going at it outside on her way in—and she’d also seen Ms. See-through Dress fucking a different guy in the bathroom here earlier.
Vanya noticed things.
Lots of things—particularly in places like this.
Places like this—rank, nasty dives that made her want to take a bath.
But she needed to be here.
Vanya didn’t even know why.
She just knew she needed to be here.
Even though it was screwing with her head something awful. Too much going on—too much sex, too much anger, too much confusion and chaos and depression and sadness and want and lust and greed…
All the thoughts pressed in on her and she couldn’t block them all out. It was as if she’d walked into the local Best Buy and somebody had jacked up all the speakers to maximum.
She hated it.
The noise, the chaos, they screwed with her shields something awful.
She did fine one-on-one, two-on-one, even ten- or twenty-on-one. But a few hundred angry, angsty young adults and not-so-young adults who were trying desperately to pretend they were…hell, it was enough to screw with any psychic’s shields. At least, she’d prefer to think so.
To say her shields were compromised was putting it mildly.
This wasn’t a place she
And if she listened to her instincts, she’d leave because there was danger in every corner here.
She could feel it, all but taste it.
She hadn’t tasted it this strong since the night her sister Irina had died—been killed.
The night Vanya had killed her. Killed her and the demon inside her. At least she’d
the demon died. She didn’t know enough about the demons to know for sure. After all, nobody would tell her. She suspected not many
. Those who could weren’t talking.
A giggle pierced the dark shroud of Vanya’s thoughts and she braced her hands on the cool porcelain of the sink, made herself think. Made herself focus. She needed to get out of here. Back into the club.
The succubae and incubae.
They were her main concern—the reason she was here.
She didn’t need to be worrying about a bunch of giggling, silly girls. Girls who were busy lamenting over a silly, sheer dress and whether or not any of them made a hookup tonight.
Vanya wished that were the biggest concern of her life.
That hadn’t ever been a concern in her life.
She rarely had time for it.
No—her biggest concern was currently centered around the demons who had selected this bar as a feeding ground. Even though they were stronger than her, faster than her…
Even though they could kill her with ridiculous ease.
But then again, that was her goal, wasn’t it?
She couldn’t really make any real progress until she died.
I’ve got a deal for you…
Like it was yesterday, Vanya could remember the night he’d come to her.
His name was Will. Or at least that was the name he’d given her.
He was one of the people who could enlighten her about demons. But he wasn’t too interested in sharing many details with her. At least not yet.
In good time
—that was his favorite line.
One would think he’d be more interested in talking to her, reassuring her. Considering he was trying to convince her to join him. And in order to do that? She had to die. Yeah, that was a real kicker. Some reassurance would be appreciated. But he never gave it, and oddly enough, she trusted him despite that fact.
She’d met him five years ago.
Five years ago—she’d been eighteen and alone, fighting against those things, like she’d been doing as often as she could, ever since she was sixteen when her sister had been taken over by them. Her sister, her friend, her only family.
“I’ve got a deal for you.”
He’d come out of nowhere. Dressed all in white, from the long, white leather coat, to the white leather shoes. On many men, it would have looked foolish. On him…it fit.
Vanya, covered in blood, still shuddering from the rush of adrenaline, had barely been able to keep the scream trapped behind her lips when the man practically
right in front of her.
Not that he had—that wasn’t possible.
But it sure as hell seemed that way.
With a sneer to cover her fear, she started to go around him. “Sorry, pal. If you’re looking to get laid, you’re looking in the wrong place.”
He caught her arm. “I’m not looking for sex, Vanya. I’m looking for fighters. And that’s what you are. An hour of your time, in public, and I’ll buy you a meal.”
The exact right words—he couldn’t have offered her diamonds with a better result.
Her belly growled. It had been more than a day since she’d scavenged up a decent meal. Although she had the money she’d stolen from her latest kill, if this guy was willing to fork over the dough…hooking her thumbs in her pockets, she studied him.
“A meal and fifty bucks,” she said, lifting her chin.
He smiled. “Not a problem. Shall we?” He gestured toward the road.
But Vanya hesitated. She’d just killed two…things. They’d been human once and their bodies still looked human. That meant they’d
And the police would think she was insane if she told them some story about demons and possession…
Plus, although the dark clothes she wore hid the blood pretty well, in the light, people would notice something.
“I’ll meet you. Someplace. Two hours. I’ve got a prior engagement,” she said.
“Ahhh. Yes. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to clean up, change your clothes, I imagine.”
The blood drained from her face—she felt it. Swallowing, she stared at his face. And although she didn’t like to do it, she lowered her shields, just a bit, prepared to jerk them back up in case he felt like…one of them.
What she felt was…
Weariness. Strength. And light—it was almost like she stood in the sunshine after years and years in darkness.
Hissing out a breath, she backed away, staring at him.
Judging by the look in his eyes, he’d known exactly what she was doing. He continued to watch her, waiting, a patient look on his face, as though he’d wait forever. As though he
Suddenly, she wasn’t so hungry and she didn’t think he was worth the fifty bucks or the free meal.
“Maybe not, but that deal I mentioned? It’s worth it,” he murmured. “You’ll end up dead, one of these nights, when you go out there. You’ll continue this quest, determined to kill those things before they take away somebody else’s sister, mother, brother, son…but this time, you’ll be the one to fall. The one to die. Or perhaps worse—you’ll end up one of
. It’s a risk and you know it. It’s a fear you live with. The nightmare that keeps you awake, even though you sleep only during the day when the sun shines bright in the sky.”
Terror squeezed her chest, her throat.
Shit—how in the hell
“Who in the fuck are you?” she demanded. “How do you know that?”
The smile curling his lips was sad. “Somebody not so different from you, sweeting.” He reached inside his pocket.
She grabbed her knife, brandished it.
And then felt very much the fool when he held out a crisp fifty dollar bill. “Yours…whether you meet me or not—the good Lord knows you could use a good meal or two on you. Your favorite restaurant. Be there. In two hours. Or not. But I mean you no harm.”